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Are bagels vegan?  Thank God, the answer to this question is mostly yes!  The New Yorker in me insists on my Sunday morning spent with coffee, a bagel, and The New York Times.  I look forward to this Sunday morning ritual all week — my time to relax and also get back in touch with what’s happening in the world. The Arts & Leisure section and Book Review are like old friends.

Back home, we take our bagels very seriously — no frozen bagels that taste like rolls for us!  H & H Bagels, by many considered the Mecca of bagels, is a bare-bones storefront that was right down the street from me when I was living at The Apthorp.  People love these bagels so much that many simply cannot do without: H & H ships world-wide; you can order them and have them delivered to you the very next day! Personally, my fave was Columbia Bagels up on 110th Street, near the university… a few subway stops north of H & H. Once Columbia Bagels moved its location to the East side, Broadway Bagel on 101st Street became my place, and I still visit whenever I’m in the neighborhood.  Here in Tucson, the franchise bagel store is the thing, and so I’ve been introduced to Bruegger’s Bagels and Einstein Bros. Bagels.  The morning-bagel routine has changed a bit here: we usually do a bagel run and bring the goods back home, so that the whole family gets to have breakfast together.  Our pups, Galileo and Otis, get to split a plain bagel.  Galileo likes Tofutti on his pieces; Otis prefers Smart Balance Light.

While bagel territory seems to be mostly safe territory, your best bet is still going to be checking with your local bagel shop.  Of course, any bagel like “jalapeno-cheese” or “asiago” is not going to be dairy-free. Beyond the obvious, some bagel shops brush egg whites on the bagel-top to make the seeds or onion pieces stick, though this is not the norm.  But sometimes it gets a little more tricky: I recently found out that Einstein Bros. Bagels uses an amino acid called L-Cysteine as a dough conditioner, so its bagels are not vegan.  I’ve already put in a request at Einstein to create a “vegan” bagel as the sister to their “low-carb” option.  We’ll see what happens…

Bagel Spreads
Back in New York, the guys behind the counter knew my preference: I wasn’t two steps through the door before one of them would pop a cinnamon-raisin bagel in the microwave for me.  Not sliced.  Nothing on it. Just a simple, slightly warm, and slightly-sweet bagel to go along with my cup of coffee —  so perfect when the weather turned a little colder and it was once again the season to bundle up.  I know some bagel places already have margarine available, thanks to people who are watching cholesterol levels; and I’ve heard that places like H & H (midtown location) offer some vegan cream-cheese options.  But what if your bagel haunt isn’t quite up to snuff yet?  When I was in Portland last month, I noticed a woman sitting in a coffee shop who had her own little squeeze bottle of Smart Balance.  Not a bad idea.  Also, if you’re a “regular” at the shop, they might let you leave your personal preference with them, to keep tucked away in the fridge. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask. So often it can be this easy; a customer’s suggestion turns into a business practice.  With so many people who are lactose intolerant, or have food allergies, or are making the switch to a plant-based diet, a shop may be more open these days to having a nondairy substitute available for customers.  Locally-owned shops are awesome that way… friendly and eager to please.  And franchises may change their ways if enough requests come in.  So, if you have a minute right now, please leave a quick note with Einstein Bros. Bagels and with Brueggers Bagels by using their online customer feedback forms.  Ask both franchises to offer some alternatives to butter and cream cheese for your morning bagel.  And, while you’re at it, feel free to second my request to Einstein Bros. for a vegan bagel option, too!

UPDATE: Great news! Bagels produced for Einstein Bros. and Noah’s are now made with a synthetic form of L Cysteine that does not contain duck feathers, with the exception of the Kettleman-style boiled bagels in Portland locations (still using the original Kettleman’s recipe). –June 5, 2012


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Author: Sharon Discorfano

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